Tuesday, January 20, 2015


BURLINGTON, Vt. -Kadina Malicbegovic is using her paintbrush to heal battle wounds, some visible and others not so obvious. The 35-year-old is a body painter from Bosnia challenging her clients to redefine art and abandon their inhibitions.

"I never thought in a million years that I would be comfortable enough to expose myself. But when I saw how wonderful these people felt and they would come up to me and say, 'oh it's so liberating I feel the most beautiful I've ever felt in my life in this most vulnerable position.' I said, I have to try that," said Sarah Beth Combs, a cancer survivor.

Sarah Beth is now baring it all and sharing her story of survival.

"When I was 12, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder which is called histiocytosis X. It's treated as a cancer with chemotherapy and heavy steroids. Ever since then I've struggled with body image issues. I ballooned up kind of like a Michelin tire man. That was hard. I had stretch marks. And other than dealing with the actual disease, I was really focused on the way I looked," said Sarah Beth.

Her cancer came back at 16. Treatment left her with scars, scars that challenged her definition of beauty. That is until she met Kadina.

"The first thing she said is are you sure you're comfortable with this? Are you sure you really want to do this? That helped me view what she does as art and not just something she does for shock value," said Combs.

"I make people happy and they make me happy," said Kadina.

Kadina's latest project called Art and Soul is collaboration between her company, the Human Canvas and young Vermonters like Sarah Beth. The goal: body acceptance after cancer.

"We transform into a different reality which is fun and colorful and even if it's just for a very short time, I think it's beautiful," said Kadina.

Kadina is a survivor, too. Not of cancer but war.

"You just don't believe it's happening," said Kadina.

She moved to Vermont in 1999 at the age of 18 when the conflict in Bosnia ended. She says art got her through the tough times.

"It was kind of an escape, a peace of mind, I would always just paint or draw to get out of what was happening," said Kadina.

She studied studio art and psychology at the University of Vermont, dabbled in etching, photography, drawing and sculpture before she found her calling. But her passion for body painting was met with resistance especially early on.

"Whoa! What's going on? There are naked women there, but they're painted. I was like oh, but it's art. So it was really hard in the beginning," said Kadina.

Only local artists and musicians would hire her for private parties. Eventually she found studio space and started to gain acceptance. Now she's sought by some pretty big names like Vermont Cares, Magic Hat, .... and even HBO.

"Different people work with me for different reasons," said Kadina.

Sometimes she's paid to paint live as entertainment or hired to create human art for brands, business cards or pregnant bellies.

"Sometimes moms just want to have artwork to keep forever and it's beautiful," said Kadina.

If stripping down to paint it all doesn't strike your fancy, Kadina's sister company, Little Artsy Faces, is a more family friendly option. Either way the paint is temporary and will wash away with a shower.

"I'm a revolutionary. This is my revolution," said Kadina in a previous "Stuck in Vermont" segment.

Nearly a decade into her career this artist continues to push the envelope bucking social norms one brush stroke at a time. A torso will take her anywhere between two to seven hours depending on the complexity of the design. It can cost up to $600, although smaller body parts are significantly cheaper. Still, the gig rarely pays the bills. Kadina continues to supplement her income with a string of second jobs.

"It's challenging but I believe in it. And I believe that in the past eight years it's just been getting better. I'm not going to stop. So I will go until we have a huge body painting march going down Church Street and everybody is just loving it," said Kadina.

At 22, Sarah Beth is now cancer-free but deals with chronic pain, a lasting reminder of her condition.

"I've had to learn to embrace that and accept that without wallowing in my own misery and finding a way to make it a positive thing. And that's what I'm trying to do here," said Sarah Beth.

She says working with Kadina has helped to keep life in perspective.

"It feels like it's mutually therapeutic. I find her journey so inspiring and so healing. Everyone has circumstances that are hard. This was just what I was given and Kadina was given her own difficult life circumstance and she made something beautiful out of it," said Sarah Beth.

They are two women from different worlds banking on the same odd job to help them get through life's most challenging hurdles.

Kadina and the cancer survivors plan to exhibit their work and print calendars once all the body painting portraits are complete. They're still looking for a gallery to host the event.

Jennifer is always looking for ideas. So if you have an odd job or know someone who does send us an email to news@wcax.com.

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